Have you ever read an article and got to the end of a paragraph and realized you had no idea what you just read about? Oops! As teachers, we don’t want our students to experience that each time they read a new text. One of the best ways to improve reading comprehension is to explicitly teach strategies that will help build on reading comprehension skills. In this post, I’m sharing some skills and strategies you can implement to build strong readers in your classroom.
7 Best Ways to Improve Reading Comprehension Skills
1. Build on Background Knowledge
All of our students enter our classrooms from different places and with different experiences. Taking a moment to see what our students know about a topic is a great way to apply the knowledge they already have to a new topic. This helps them more easily comprehend the new text. Looking for fun ways to tap into prior knowledge on a topic? In this post, I share some Pre-Reading Strategies that are a hit in the classroom!
A great way to build background is by listing your next unit topic on the board. Then, ask your students to write down any words that come to mind related to the word. Have your students add their sticky notes to the ABC chart.
2. Model How to ‘Think while Reading’
Strong readers think about their thinking as they read. They pause to digest information and make connections. Modeling how to actively ‘think’ while reading is a vital way to build independent readers and is one of the skills to improve reading comprehension. During a think-aloud, students are verbalizing what they are visualizing, thinking, and predicting.
These 6 reading strategies and sentence stems for think-alouds will help readers engage with the text at a deeper level:
Predict – Students will think about what might happen next
Question– Students will question events, characters and ideas in the text. Why? How? Where?
Infer– Students will make statements based on events of ideas mentioned in the text.
Visualize– Students will verbalize what images, sounds, tastes, and feelings come to mind when reading specific sections of the text.
Summarize– Students will gather all of the information from the text to generate a ‘main idea’ or ‘gist’ from the text.
Connect– Students will make text-to-text or text-to-self connections with what they read. How does this remind them of something they have read, seen, or experienced before?
Download this FREE printable Think-Aloud Anchor Chart. Inside you’ll find full-page sizes and 2 per page so that students can glue them into their reading interactive notebooks. Students will have these skills to improve reading comprehension ready-to-go whenever they need them!
Reading is Thinking FREE Poster
Encourage students to think about their reading with these Metacognition strategies. Inside you’ll find small posters that students can glue into their reading interactive notebooks as well!
3. Teach Nonfiction Text Features
Your students have likely seen text features in nonfiction texts that they’ve read, but it’s possible that they’ve skipped over them entirely. Teach them how to identify different text features and why these features aid in overall comprehension of the text.
As you’re reading a text whole group, pause and ask questions about the features. One of the best ways to improve reading comprehension is to model how to pause and think about the text before, during, and after reading.
Here are some guiding comprehension questions to ask your students while reading informational text:
How is the subheading for this section related to the paragraph?
Why does the author include this caption?
What does the photo/illustration help us better understand?
After looking at the diagram, how can you better explain ______?
How does the graph help you visualize the importance or _____?
Why did the author choose to make this word bold? Italic?
What information does the table include that is also mentioned in the text?
In this post, I shsre 5 FUN Activities to Teach Text Features
FREE Text Feature Reading Comprehension Worksheet
Give your students practice with nonfiction text features using this Martin Luther King Jr. passage. Students will label the passage with each pictured text feature on the passage.
4. Teach Context Clues Strategies
As children advance in grades, they’ll be exposed to more complex vocabulary. Many of these words are unfamiliar and we can’t just ‘teach’ them the meanings of thousands of new words…
That’s why teaching students context clues strategies will set them up for success! If students are equipped with strategies to aid them whenever they encounter an unfamiliar word, they’re more likely to feel confident when reading.
Knowing how to identify these 5 context clues is one of those reading comprehension strategies elementary students need to become independent readers.
1. Definition Context Clues: This clue provides a definition or explanation of the word. The definition may be in the same sentence as the word or somewhere near the word.
EX: We were bewildered when we saw her. We were so confused by the green mask on her face.
2. Example Context Clues: This clue gives an example of the word. These examples help the reader get a better understanding of the word’s meaning.
EX: We were bewildered when we saw her. We looked at her face and then looked at each other. What in the world was she wearing? Where was she going? We had so many questions!
3. Synonym Context Clues: This clue gives a word with a similar meaning near the unfamiliar word. This clue helps readers make connections with words they may already know. (Synonym and definition clues can be very similar)
EX: We were bewildered when we saw her. We had a puzzled look on our faces.
4. Antonym Context Clues: This context clue gives a word with an opposite meaning to the unfamiliar word within the text.
EX: We thought we knew what she was wearing to the party. However, We were bewildered when we saw her walk into the room with the green mask.
5. Inference Context Clues: An inference context clue requires readers to make an inference about the meaning of a word based on the information provided around the unknown word. This is usually the most challenging context clue for students since it requires tapping into their critical thinking skills. (Inference clues can sometimes be very similar to example clues!)
EX: We were bewildered when we saw her. She was wearing a green mask, knee-high rainbow socks, and a bright red wig sat on top of her head.
Vocabulary Task Cards
Enrich your students’ vocabulary with these fun and engaging literacy center activities!
5. Identify Relationships in the Text
Authors write with intention. Therefore, when students understand the relationships within a text, they’re able to better comprehend the information.
Teach students the different types of text structures and what keywords/phrases to look out for.
While reading, model pausing and summarizing each section of the text. This will help them visualize how each section relates to the overall structure of the text.
Here are some questions to ask about the structure of the text:
How does one event cause the next?
How is the text organized?
What is being compared?
What signal words help to show the structure of the text?
How does paragraph ____ relate to _____?
6. The Power of Annotation
Encouraging students to make annotations as they read will help them really visualize their thinking! It is one of the reading strategies to help struggling readers that I find the most beneficial, especially when working in small groups!
Write down quick 3-5 word summarizations for each paragraph or section in the text.
Circle or highlight confusing words
Add exclamation marks to sections that stand out
Write ‘Power Words’ or words that come to mind when reading specific sections
7. Expose Students to Fiction and Nonfiction Texts
Provide multiple opportunities to read about a topic through different genres. For example, If you’re teaching a unit about penguins, introduce your students to fiction and nonfiction texts on the topic. Students will be exposed to vocabulary, text features, and information about the same topic, but in a different way.
Exposing students to different genres will enhance their ability to understand different texts throughout their reading journey. When reading nonfiction texts, they’ll know to be on the lookout for characters, settings, and plots. When switching to nonfiction texts, students will rely on text features and key details for comprehension.
I hope these tips and strategies help improve reading comprehension and build strong readers in your classroom!